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Eastern Encounters pattern
Eastern Encounters

Drawn from the Royal Library's collection of South Asian books and manuscripts

CAT. NO. 17

The Mughal Emperor Humayun by Mohan

Mughal, 1603

Fol. 6 from an album of Mughal portraits and calligraphy (see cat. no. 15) | Painting in opaque watercolour including gold metallic paint and leaf with decorative incising; set into a composite margin of dyed and plain papers with opaque watercolour and gold metallic ornament and ink inscriptions | 29.7 × 20.0 cm (folio); 13.3 × 6.8 cm (image) | RCIN 1005038.f

Surrounded by an open pen box, manuscript, portfolio and an astrolabe, hinting at his keen interest in astronomy, the second Mughal Emperor Humayun (r. 1531–40 and 1555–6) kneels on a felt rug in a paradisiacal garden as he reads a verse from the Bustan (‘Fragrant Garden’) of Sa’di. An inscription on the side of the rug ascribes the posthumous portrait to the Indian artist Mohan in the year 1603 (see cat. no. 24) for a slightly later painting by the artist). In contrast to most representations of Humayun, he does not wear the distinctive pointed turban, known as the taj-e izzat, which the Emperor introduced to the Mughal court after his stay in Iran in 1543–4.[53] Instead he sports a round Timurid cap, suggesting that Mohan based this painting on a pre-1544 portrait of the Emperor. Humayun was known for his love of textiles and is shown here wearing silk robes finely embroidered with gold thread with a 'cloud-collar' design around the neck. His outer garment is typical of the early sixteenth century with a scalloped horizontal slit in the sleeves above the elbow so that it can be worn long- or short-sleeved as desired. The verse warns that he who wastes his time in iniquity ‘burns the harvest of his life’,[54] perhaps a reference to the Emperor’s notorious addiction to opium.

Consistent with Iranian conventions, the painting is composed of fine strokes and strong outlines with little suggestion of anatomical modelling. The abstract sense of space allows the viewer to situate the deceased Emperor in an imagined, non-temporal, paradisiacal realm. 

  • In cartouche above and pasted above upper border:

    hazrat-e humayun padshah / His Highness Emperor Humayun 

    On rug:

    surat-e hazrat-e muhammad humayun padshah ghazi | sana 47 muwafiq-e sana-ye hijri 1011 | amal-e mohan-e musawwir / A likeness of His Highness the warrior Emperor Humayun | the [regnal] year 47 corresponding to the year 1011 Hijri | work of the artist Mohan 

  • [53] See Parodi 2006. For a portrait of Humayun wearing the taj-e izzat mislabelled as a portrait of his brother Miran Shah, see RCIN 1005038.j.

    [54] Bustan, p. 101 (chapter 9, story 9).

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